Just when things looked bleakest, the Dukes found a way Friday to fight back to within 2016 playoff contention.
Wellington (4-4) rode 152 rushing yards from Max Carevic and 142 from Tristan Arno to a 30-14 victory over the Keystone Wildcats (6-2).
The win broke a two-game losing streak amidst a tough conference stretch in the Dukes’ schedule. If Wellington manages to win its final two games and Black River (5-3) defeats Firelands (6-2) this Friday, early predictions of OHSAA polls say the Dukes could qualify for the playoffs.
Buckeye sits alone atop the Patriot Athletic Conference Stars division at 7-1 after defeating Firelands 38-14. Wellington welcomes Brookside (1-7) this week before traveling to Black River for its regular season finale.
Carevic on Friday conceded the starting quarterback position to Arno and instead played a hybrid role in the offense where he took snaps at quarterback, running back, and receiver.
Arno threw for 196 yards, a touchdown, and no interceptions while completing 21 of 25 passes. Carevic added six catches to his impressive rushing night and scored twice on the ground, including a 72-yard breakaway in the game’s closing minutes.
“This is the first time that we’ve tried this offense after practicing it all week,” said Carevic. “This was my first time playing running back. Tristan is used to the quarterback position so we expected him to play well, and he did. I was looking for that big run the entire game and it was really exciting to finally get it.”
Trevor Porter was Wellington’s leading receiver with eight catches for 87 yards and a leaping score over two Keystone defenders in the end zone. The senior also ran back a kickoff 70 yards for a score just before halftime, but it was negated by a holding call on the Dukes.
“This feels really good,” he said. “We came into this game really focused after losing the past two weeks. We really needed this. We’re definitely going to win out the rest of the season.”
A 34-yard field goal from Corey Feron opened up scoring before Porter’s catch gave the Dukes a 10-0 lead with 42 seconds remaining in the first half.
Keystone responded with a touchdown of its own before halftime on a 22-yard pass to Ty Cowling. That came after a trick play caught the Wellington defense off-guard; the screen pass was completed to Cowling, who then threw it 45 yards downfield to Trey Minnich.
Carevic and Arno lined up in the pistol formation to start the third quarter and began to give the Keystone front serious trouble. The two kept the defense guessing with option pitches and play action that opened up sizeable gains through the air to Mason Wright and Parker Rieske.
Carevic scored from five yards out to put the Dukes up 17-7, but a long drive and four-yard run from Keystone brought the Wildcats back to within three points.
An ensuing lengthy drive from Wellington ended with momentary disaster when Carevic lost a fumble to Keystone on the Wildcats’ eight-yard-line. The Dukes defense, though, responded in a big way and forced the Wildcats into a three-and-out.
Arno punched in a one-yard touchdown to create another two-score lead for Wellington before Carevic broke away to the outside on the Dukes’ final possession for an emphatic trip to the end zone and season-changing win.
Coach Sean Arno told his team the game was one of the best he’s ever been involved with and thanked players for the effort put forth.
“I know how bad these kids wanted to win this game,” he said. “We’ve been really close this year on a couple of occasions and after last week they really wanted to redeem themselves. Last week we came out flat and didn’t play well at all. This was an important game on multiple levels. It’s against a rival who we haven’t beaten for a few years.”
He said the decision to swap quarterbacks was due to injury and in the interest of keeping the ball in the hands of play-makers as much as possible.
“Justin Skinner was hurt a couple of weeks ago and he was a very good running back for us,” he said. “Guys like Nate Nocella have stepped up for us in the time since. We were breaking down film and thought of things we could do to change things up. We always want to get Max the ball as many times as we can and found a new way to do so in the backfield. We determined Tristan hadn’t gotten a lot of touches the past few weeks and it ended up being a matter of letting them both shine to their true potential.”
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.
Photos by Jonathan Delozier and Russ Gifford | Wellington Enterprise Wellington’s Trevor Porter hauls in a touchdown pass between two Keystone defenders.